Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen friends – Namaskar.
A very good afternoon and warm greeting to each and every one of you. It is an honour for me as an Indian and as a woman to deliver a keynote address before this global gathering of leaders in sport.
I come from the land of Buddha, Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. I represent the dreams, hope and aspirations of a billion Indian. India is home to one-sixth of humanity, it is the youngest country in the world, a resurgent nation of 1.3 billion people of which 600 million are under the age of 25. If the youth of India were a country by themselves, they would be the third-largest country in the world. India is truly at a point of inflection, a country whose time has come.
India is scaling new heights in all fields including and especially sports. Friends, I would like to thank the organisers of this summit for inviting me to share my thought and experiences with this august gathering. They have graciously referred to me as the First Lady of Indian Sport. My presence here is an honour for all woman of India and it is my mission to empower and enable every woman in India. I am a big believer in the phenomenal power of women, I believe that when women lean on women, incredible things happen. I believe women can excel not only in playing sport but also in promoting sport at national and international levels.
Today, women in India are breaking the glass ceiling in more and more areas of human endeavour. Indeed women all over the world are doing so in sport and science, in boardrooms and courtrooms, in Bollywood and Hollywood, in politics and philanthropy, in effect anywhere and everywhere.
Friends, through my work at Reliance Foundation, I have had the privilege of working closely with women and children. It is my firm belief that when children learn and play, communities grow and countries prosper. For the holistic development of a child’s personality, there is only well-proven formula just let them play a sport, any sport. Sport is a great teacher, it is a magical equaliser and in a young country like India, the aspirations are so audacious, the adrenalin so high and appetite to achieve so strong that if you can just guide and steer our in the right direction, they will script the most stunning success stories the world has ever seen.
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Friends, my own tryst with sport began at an age when most sports persons retire. I was 44 when sport changed my life, my perspective and my worldview. It all started with cricket and Mumbai Indians (MI) in 2009. It was the second season of IPL. The Premier League and our team were at the bottom of the table. I had no knowledge of cricket but I flew to South Africa to motivate and be with the team when they were down and out. From those first meetings with the teams, learning the nitty-gritty of cricket from the legends of the game to this day ten years later when MI is the most valued team in India with four IPL titles. My journey has been incredible. Through this magical journey, I experienced for myself that cricket is truly a religion in India.
While the British gave us cricket, I can say without any fear of being contradicted that the record for scoring the highest number of runs in test cricket and in ODIs stands in the name of one Indian - Sachin Tendulkar. I am proud to say that Sachin was the captain and has been the mentor of Mumbai Indians since inception. What MI has taught me is this - Sport does not differentiate, it knows no race or religion, talent can come from anywhere and reach the pinnacle of success.
I would like to share with you the transformational journey of a young boy who was discovered by Mumbai Indians (MI) from a small town of India.
Today Bumrah is an inspiration to countless young boys and girls. In the last ten years, MI has discovered several young talents like Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya and so many more, I look forward to the day when every young boy and girl from remotest parts of the country can dare to dream and make it big.
Friends, women’s empowerment through sport is one of the silent revolutions taking place all over the world. Like most sports traditionally cricket has also been a bastion of men, even Lords the iconic home of cricket welcomed women to its pavilion only in 1999 and offered full membership to women only last year.
In a tradition-bound society like India, the change has been even more dramatic. Ten years ago when IPL started, cricket in India was watched largely by men. Over the last ten years, we have seen a new diversity for a fan base with cricket. Indeed for all sports in India, today female fan following for IPL is almost equal to male following and this dynamic shift has just not been with the fans. India’s women cricket team is now ranked number two in the world followed by England.
Friends, one of the most heartwarming initiatives of Reliance Foundation and MI is ‘Education and Sports for All Programme’. It combines the power and pulls of sports and education especially for children who are underprivileged and differently-abled. Under the ESA initiative, every year we bring 21,000 of these children to watch their favourite MI team play. For all of them, this is their first-ever visit to the stadium to watch a live match. It is a day that gives them immense joy and hope. It is really gratifying to watch these children interact with their sporting heroes. Not only do this children go home with stars in their eyes but also with the belief that they too can dream and achieve. Let us experience the magic of ESA.
Education and Sports for All (ESA) is truly the soul of MI.
Friends, success in one field encourages success in many fields that is the eternal law of life. The popularity of IPL has led to the emergence of many more professional leagues in India like hockey, badminton, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, kabbadi and of course football. As a teacher and as a mother, I know that children in our school would wake up in the middle of the night to watch the EPL, I saw my own son Akash did that too. That is when I realised the younger generation had a huge interest in and love for football and I saw there was a big opportunity in India for this beautiful game. This motivated me to launch the Indian Super League for football in 2014. I am pleased to share that in just five years ISL has immerged as the third most-watched league in India.
ISL viewership for 2018-19 on television alone was 168 million and digital viewership was over 12 million. Since the inception of ISL, the Indian National Team’s FIFA ranking has shot up from 173 to 96. It is now my dream to see India perform at the pinnacle of global football and qualify for the FIFA World Cup. This calls for the development of a vibrant footballing ecosystem in the country - that is the vision of ISL.
Our grassroots programme in football has so far reached out to over 1.5 million children. Our huge sports programme for schools and colleges has reached out to 9 million children. The Reliance Foundation Junior NBA Programme has reached out to 11 million children. Overall, across all sports, Reliance Foundation has reached out to over 21.5 million children across the country.
Ten years ago it would have been unthinkable for an Indian family to see football as a viable career option for their children. ISL has truly been a game changer for thousands of young footballers and this year starting November we will start two more pioneering initiatives under ISL - The Children's League which is expected to reach out to over 40000 children under the age of 12 in the next three years and the under 17 women’s football tournament, the first ever women’s tournament to scout for talent for India’s football team and this team will go on to represent India at the under 17 FIFA Women’s World Cup to be hosted in India in 2020.
Friends ten years ago my husband Mukesh Ambani and I started the Reliance Foundation to empower all Indians especially women and children. We have had the privilege of touching the lives of 34 million people through our work in diverse areas in the remotest villages and towns of India.
Every single life that we have touched has made us believe even more firmly in the power of our youth.
Swami Vivekananda, the great Indian philosopher had said make your body strong, play games, play football, you will be nearer to god through football than through the study of the Bhagavad Gita. Now India is discovering our great traditional wisdom in many fields including sports.
No nation in the world can emerge as a great sporting power without strong governmental support. Right now in India, we are fortunate that our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a great vision to transform India into a global sporting powerhouse. In addition to promoting yoga globally, Prime Minister Modi has recently launched two major initiatives to promote sports – ‘The Khelo India’ programme and the ambitious ‘Fit India’ movement. Helping these initiatives is the digital revolution that is changing the landscape of India.
India is the second most digitally connected country in the world. Jio – Reliance’s newest initiative is today the largest digital services company in India and the second-largest mobile company in the world.
Jio is now building multiple digital platforms and solutions in diverse fields including sports, education and healthcare. The efforts put in by the government and the private sector in grassroots and youth development have started bearing fruit. Our young Indian players have taken the world by storm. In the month of July alone, Indian athletes won over 200 medals at the international level. Out of these, the majority were won by women.
Our 19-year-old sprinter Hima Das in a span of just 20 days picked up five gold medals across track events in Europe. Growing up not having enough means to even buy a pair of shoes, Hima practised barefoot. Today not only is she a gold medallist but also a proud brand ambassador of Adidas Shoes. This is the power of sports.
Friends, right now, probably the most exciting time for sports in India, whether you are a player, a coach, an investor, an administrator or a fan, there has never been an environment more conducive, more encouraging, more enabling for sports than what we have in India today. India is truly emerging as the newest and youngest sporting power in the world and what makes it even more engaging and exciting is the strength of our numbers.
We are a television loving nation. Let me share with you the spectacular growth of sports media in India. For the first 10 years, media rights for IPL went for $950 million. Just last year, IPLs media rights for the next five years were sold for $2.5 billion; a staggering growth of 500 percent, amazing isn't it?
When England beat New Zealand in 2019 Cricket World Cup final, 15 million viewers watched the match on TV in England, while 180 million viewers watched the same game in India alone. Compare that with the semifinals when India lost to New Zealand, over 220 million viewers watched the game in India. Now imagine if India was in the finals apart from giving England a very tough competition, the viewership numbers would have just skyrocketed.
The scale and size of viewership not just for cricket but for other sports like the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup, EPL and many more make India truly a unique opportunity. 800 million Indians consumed sports on television alone in 2018.
Friends, the picture of the fast-changing sporting landscape, which I presented before you must have convinced you about one thing - new India is a land of infinite opportunities. Sports has given rise to many budding businesses and professions - coaches, physios, tech entrepreneurs, media and merchandising. New India is a land that invites all of you with open arms. What India offers you uniquely is a combined power of democracy, diversity, demography and development.
Within a decade, India will overtake China as the most populist nation in the world. India is proud of being a free, open, liberal and democratic society. The time is not far when India will become the third-largest economy in the world with an ambitious target of doubling GDP in five years to make it a five trillion dollar economy. Distinguished leaders in sports, with all these unique opportunities, can you stay away from the incredible India opportunity - the answer is obviously no.
As I come to the end of my address, let me share my vision for the future of the sport in India. I have three dreams. My first dream, I would like to see that no child in India is deprived of an opportunity to experience and learn from the joy and thrill of sports. I would like to see that along with the right to education, the right to sport is also declared as a fundamental right in our constitution. My priority is to reach out to children from poor and marginalized regions and families. I am personally committed to creating such opportunities for all our children. This is because keeping our children fit, healthy and happy is the fundamental duty of every society. I take it as my dharma, my duty to support the right to sport for our 300 million children of India, they are the future of our nation, the face of a beautiful tomorrow.
In fact, not just children, my dream of ESA is truly for people of all ages - from children to parents, to grandparents. Let us all start a movement for Sports and Fitness for All and urge the United Nations to make it one of the sustainable development goals.
My second dream - I would like to see India become a global sporting powerhouse. There is no reason why a nation of 1.3 billion people cannot be amongst the leading medal winners on the international stage. It is my hope and my dream to see India host some of the most iconic sporting championships in the world like the Olympics and FIFA World Cup.
Just four days ago Reliance Foundation brought the NBA to play its first-ever game in India. I invite each and every one of you to join us and be a part of the great Indian dream - the India Opportunity.
My third dream is to see that sport performs its most important global goal to promote peace, amity and understanding - to inspire, to heal and to transform. One of the most defining moments of the Rio Olympics 2016 was when the first-ever refugee Olympic team came together and marched as one under the Olympic flag. In their darkest times sport gave them courage and beliefs. Their refugee camps became a sports ground. It was an emphatic moment of solidarity and humanity. This shows the unique power of sport to become an agent of change of hope, of unity and of peace both within and between countries and cultures.
In fact, when you travel back in time to the 8th Century BC, a sacred truce was announced in Ancient Greece at the time of Olympic Games - all waring countries laid down their arms, sport became the biggest weapon that ended all wars.
Truly, the power of sport as a promoter of peace is as old as human civilisation itself. Isn’t this power of sport just as relevant today?
This year marks the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest peacemaker of the world in modern times. In paying tribute to the Mahatma today, I call upon all of you - let us replace warfare with sportsmanship. Let us turn all our battlegrounds in the world into playgrounds. Let us give every young boy and girl the courage to believe in their dreams and the power to write their own destiny and finally, let us leave behind a more peaceful, more beautiful, more sustainable and a more joyous world for all our children.